Drug and medical-device companies paid at least $3.5 billion in kickbacks to U.S. physicians during the final five months of last year, according to the most comprehensive accounting so far of the financial ties that some critics say have compromised medical care.
The push for greater transparency was driven by concerns that doctors' prescribing decisions are tainted by the hundreds of millions of dollars that the physicians collectively receive each year from companies. Supporters expect the transparency initiative to provide useful information to patients about the relationships their doctors have with industry and to curb the influence of payments on medical care.
Companies have defended their payments to physicians as necessary to conduct research and communicate how products should be used. "I welcome these disclosures," said John C. Lechleiter, chief executive of drug maker Eli Lilly& Co., which was mandated to report physician payments on its website as part of a 2009 settlement with the government over illegal-marketing allegations.
The payments and so-called transfers of value to an estimated 546,000 doctors and 1,360 teaching hospitals include such items as free meals that company sales representatives bring to physicians' offices, fees paid to doctors to speak about a company's drug to other doctors at restaurants, compensation for clinical trial research and consulting fees.